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NICOSIA, Cyprus – A cruise ship was trying on Thursday to rescue hundreds of people stranded aboard a small boat off Cyprus, and officials said they are apparently refugees who fled Syria.
Salamis Cruise Lines Managing Director Kikis Vasiliou told The Associated Press that one of its cruise ships has been instructed to change course and pick up the estimated 300 people, mostly women and children.
A Cypriot Defense Ministry statement said the small boat "most likely" set sail from Syria loaded with "civilian refugees."
Vasiliou said the company received the request from Cypriot Search and Rescue authorities to assist in the rescue operation Thursday morning while the cruise ship was returning to Cyprus from the Greek islands.
The Defense Ministry said the small boat is located about 50 nautical miles off Cyprus' southwestern coastal town of Paphos.
Vasiliou said the cruise ship, with a crew of 230 and a passenger capacity of 800, would be able to give rescued people blankets, medical care and food while taking them to the Cypriot port of Limassol.
No reason was given why the boat issued its emergency call, but a Defense Ministry statement said it was because of "inclement weather conditions" in the area. The ministry said once the rescued people arrive in Cyprus they will be given shelter.
Thousands of migrants fleeing conflicts in the Middle East and northern Africa attempt to cross the Mediterranean Sea in rickety boats in search of safe havens in Europe, and hundreds of them have died at sea.